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Don't get burned by scammers' fire department schemes


Some scammer — or scammers — appear to have Escambia Fire Rescue in their crosshairs. And the department is working to put out that fire.

It all began, says Chief Jason Catrambone with receipt of a $35 check from a local couple.

“Actually, the man stopped by to drop it off. So, we just want to get out in front of it and make sure that people aren’t confused, and understand that we’re not out there requesting donations,” he said.

The call, says the chief, appeared to deal in generics and did not mention any agencies by name — only to claim they were with “the fire department” and requesting a donation of either $35 or $100.

“From what the elderly couple told us, they had just received a phone call requesting donations to a fire service,” said Catrambone. “I guess it wasn’t very specific, so we just wanted to make sure that people knew we weren’t out there requesting funds via phone or other means.”

Fundraisers are commonplace with some fire departments, especially volunteer departments, and the majority are on the up-and-up.

“We don’t do them, but if it’s someone else, just verify,” Catrambone said. “Just make sure it’s an authentic source; most fire departments that are doing them would welcome a call just to double-check before someone sends their hard-earned money out to somewhere it shouldn’t be going.”

Scammers who target people, using first responders, have a specific strategy in trying to separate them from their money.

“I don’t know if there are more, but it’s pretty easy to prey on people’s heartstrings when it comes to public safety — so much data and news out there going on,” said the chief. “They may have had interactions with them, so they feel like it’s a good cause. I think it would be pretty easy for a scam artist to target people using public safety.”

But you can turn the tables on a scammer. Ask them for their name and the name of the organization he or she represents. Ask to have information about the organization mailed to you.

“And we always worry about the elderly getting scam phone calls, and we want to make sure that they’re not affected — especially if they’re on a limited or fixed income,” said Escambia County Fire-Rescue Chief Catrambone. “They can report it to the sheriff’s office if they feel they’re getting scam phone calls and someone trying to get money from them, and if they have any questions they can reach out to us or the county.”

Something else you can do is ask how much of your donation would go directly to the fire department. And if you decide to donate, write a check – that way, you’ll have a record of the transaction.